The Patron Saint of Nonbelievers
I used to describe myself, as “Spiritual, but not religious.”
That sounded so nice, but it really had no meaning. I wasn’t a worshipper of spirits or a believer in any other-worldly things. I guess that, loosely translated, it meant that I was a moral person, because I knew that I was happier good than guilty.
But as much as I am not very religious (meaning not at all), my mother-in-law was. Lola had little prayers in her shaky handwriting taped all around her house. I especially liked the one taped by the toaster. I love toast, and certainly that toaster made excellent toast.
She died ten years ago, at aged 83. She needed surgery to which she would not consent.
“I’m not afraid of dying,” she told me a few months before she passed away, when I was once again trying to encourage her to have her throat repaired.
“That’s good,” I said. “Because we are all going to die. I just don’t understand why you want to rush it, when you can be with us a little longer, and you can be just as unafraid of death in a few years.”
But there was no changing Lola’s mind. She was stubborn and controlling and believed in herself as much as she believed in God. I remember years before, when her new neighbors planted a shrub right on the property line.
“Don’t worry,” Lola said. “I am just going to wait and see if I like it. And if I don’t… well, you know, it just… won’t take.” And she winked at me. That poor shrub died before the year was out.
My mother-in-law liked me well enough. I think what she liked most about me was that I was married to the person she liked best. She once served us homemade pierogi for lunch – one for me, six for my husband.
I was raised a Catholic. And though I was quite pious as a child – I used to love to say the rosary – it didn’t stick as I became an adult. But as agnostic as I was, I still have the urge to pray. It’s what you do when you want something – right?
Prayer didn’t really work so hot for me, though, and I couldn’t really blame God for not paying attention to me, since I hadn’t paid much attention to Him in many years. But sometimes I still want something. Since my mother-in-law prayed all the time, I figure she had me covered.
And after she died, I thought perhaps she might have even more pull than before.
The first time I tried her, it was for something common. Pain relief.
I was undergoing some difficult oral surgery. Nothing hurts quite so much as dental pain. I couldn’t focus – the pain was so intense. “Please, Lola,” I prayed to my husband’s mother in heaven – who I figured was ordering God around. “I need this pain to go away.” And to my surprise, it did. Half an hour later, the pain was gone. Completely.
Wow, that was weird; but in a good way, I thought.
Shortly after that, my husband and I threw a big party. We had built our beautiful house, which was finally finished, and wanted to celebrate. We pulled out our wedding invitation list, and combined it with our Christmas card list, and added in all the subcontractors who worked on the house too. And planned a huge picnic. We called a caterer. We made our own little miniature golf course.
And it poured. It rained so hard that morning the windows steamed up and the yard added a few water hazards to the golf course. And the caterer called to tell us to come pick up the food. Food for 75.
So I prayed to Lola. “We have so many people coming and so much food. Please stop this rain.”
And she did. Our guests told us that they drove to our house in a complete deluge – until they got to our road.
I knew I had stumbled onto an amazing secret weapon.
I’ve been careful over the years though. I don’t want Lola to think I am pushy or demanding; she may decide to go help someone who doesn’t nag. So I only ask for important things and things that are out of my control. I figure if I can accomplish something on my own, I’d better not call in a prayer. But a sick relative, a friend who needs a job – Lola hasn’t yet let me down.
But this week I asked for something a bit more trivial. I went shopping after dinner on July 3rd. I tried on dozens of summer-y outfits, as the weather had heated up, and my clothes run towards cardigans and skinny jeans (as you know). I had great luck, and found quite a few terrific bargains.
And when I got home I had only one earring. One favorite earring. My husband bought these earrings for me for Christmas – antique medallion earrings with dark sapphire stones.
I love them. I wear them at least once a week. They cost more than five times what all those new summer clothes cost. What a horrible trade-off.
The store was already closed. The next day was the Fourth of July.
I checked the internet. The store was going to be open on the Fourth.
I went to bed feeling sad and sick. On top of the loss of a precious gift, now I would have to return all those damn clothes, because every time I wore them, I would be reminded.
I prayed to Lola. I knew this wasn’t an emergency, and it was my own fault that I lost the earring. So I offered a trade-off. A little something that Lola might want in return.
The next morning I called the store before they opened, and the manager answered. No, they hadn’t found any earring. I told her I would come down anyway. My husband drove me there, and we searched the parking lot. Nothing.
We banged on the door about ten minutes before they were due to open, and the manager let me in. “We’re cleaning now,” she said, “but we haven’t found anything.”
“Please let me check the dressing room,” I said – already running past her.
And there it was. Right there. On the floor of the cubby I had used.
“I found it! I found it!” I showed the manager. I showed my husband. I showed the guy with the big broom.
And the manager shook her head. They had already cleaned the dressing room. It hadn’t been there.
That Lola is really good.
But of course, this Sunday I had to live up to my end of the bargain.
I went to church. I made my husband come with me.
“I promised your mother,” I said.
And did I wear those very special miraculous earrings to church?
The goddamn ungrateful bastards slept in.